A skater in a pink dress bobbed her head while listening to program music through headphones. Another pressed her hands and nose against a wall as her coach shoved her leg into the air for a full stretch. The judge hopped to the side just missing the sharp edge of the skater’s blade. Poppy saw her coach mouth an apology.
He stopped in front of them blowing a puff of visible air in their faces. His pink cheeks were a colorful contrast to the blue knit hat hugging his bald head.
“We know, John.” Linda spoke before the ref could even open his mouth. “She’s disqualified.” He looked directly in Poppy’s eyes as he seemed to try his hardest to avoid staring at the giant translucent wings jutting through her skating dress. Even though fairies and humans lived side by side for more than a century now, segregation and prejudice were still rampant. As accepting as the skating community tried to be, many had not grown used to seeing a fairy in an ice rink.
“I’m sorry, Poppy.” John’s eyes drooped at the side. He looked truly regretful, or perhaps just uncomfortable. He shifted from leaning on one leg to the other while Poppy simply stared up at him. He wasn’t exceptionally tall but most humans towered over the fairies’ slight bodies.
“It was an accident. She does it when she’s scared,” Linda explained. trying to dodge the awkward silence that hung between her student and her boss. “Right Pop?”
Poppy nodded but never broke her gaze at John. “Why don’t you go get changed?”
Her coach patted her back. Linda had no fear of looking at or even touching fairy wings. Poppy had been taking lessons from her for several years, the coach had grown used to fairy qualities. Even so, she had been the most accepting and open-minded teacher Poppy had ever met. She knew Linda’s coaching would fit her perfectly.
Poppy finally tore her eyes from John’s furrowed brow to acknowledge her coach’s suggestion with a quick nod. Her legs shook as she put one blade in front of the other toward her locker room.
“We’re going to have to pull her.” He spoke hushed. Poppy still heard it. She froze just inside the locker room door keeping it cracked open.
“Give her one more competition.” Linda’s voice this time. “She’s just like everyone else. She doesn’t want to fall and get hurt.”
“Yes, but,” John argued. “When humans are about to fall they brace themselves for impact, not fly!”
“I’m not saying it’s okay, or that you should count the double axel. Hell, kick her out of this competition! She’s already qualified for Regionals. This bullcrap was just to get some extra practice in.”
“There’s no need to get defensive…” John’s voice trailed off as Poppy finally let the door shut.
She turned around to see another skater. Jamie’s long blonde hair was wound in a tight bun on the top of her head. She wore a thick band of glitter and hairspray around it like a crown. Jamie was notorious for copying other competitors’ dresses and hairstyles. It felt almost like looking into a mirror except that Poppy’s hair was as white as the ice.
Jamie’s blue eyes trailed Poppy up and down then stopped at her wings. Poppy whirled around to face her garment bag and began unzipping. She tried to keep the sound of her sniffling as quiet as possible.
“Are they heavy?”
Poppy glanced over her shoulder while shaking her head. Tears welled up again, stinging the edges of her pale green eyes. A muffled roar erupted from the audience through the heavy locker room doors. Malia must have landed her double axel. They wouldn’t even have cheered for me if I landed mine. I bet they’d have claimed I flew even though I jumped into it fair and square.
“Really?” Jamie spoke again. “They look kind of heavy.”
“No.” When Poppy spun around her heavy bun fell to one side pulling the hair against her forehead. “They’re Edea’s actually, one of the lightest brands of skating boots I’ve ever worn.”
“I meant…your wings.” Jamie pointed to them as if Poppy didn’t know where they were.
Poppy wanted to scream at her. She only asked to be treated the same as any of the other skaters. But Jamie’s eyes swam with curiosity, not malice. After all, Jamie fell on her Double Axel, twice. The power struggle as competitors, balanced between them like a carefully placed blade. Poppy dropped her shoulders. She plopped down on the bench opposite Jamie.
“I have no clue, Jamie,” she confessed. “I have nothing to compare it to. It’s like me asking you if your arms are heavy.”
“They are!” Jamie snorted. “After a day of practice.”
Both competitors shared a laugh. For a moment, it felt as though nothing was different between them. Each and every skater just wanted the gold, the top spot on the podium, the chance at the Olympics. Though Poppy wasn’t sure she would even be allowed to compete in the international games.
Before every competition, Poppy suffered a recurring nightmare. She’d drift to a light sleep after hours of anxiously running through her routine in her mind’s eye. From reality to dreamland, she found herself not on the ice, but in a giant conference room. She always perched on the wall like a fly with her wings flitting. None of the imaginary humans seemed to notice her. And after a long and painful debate by the International Olympic Committee, the executive board finally ruled in their favor. Poppy always woke in tears. She cried a combination of happy and sad tears when the broadcaster on TV announced that the Games were scheduled to include the ‘other race’.
“Wanna check results with me? They should be posted by now.” Jamie interrupted Poppy’s thoughts.
“I’m pretty sure I’m disqualified.” Poppy shrugged.
“They’ll still post your point scores underneath the scored skaters,” Jamie explained. “Being disqualified is really rare. But I saw it happen to my friend once. She was sandbagging hardcore. She didn’t even know because her coach told her that a triple jump was allowed at that level. Anyway, it wasn’t. Obviously.”
“Wow.” Poppy’s green eyes grew large. “That’s bad coaching.”
“Uhuh.” Jamie nodded. She hopped to her feet and opened the locker door. A blast of cold air whooshed into the small room. Jamie held her hand out as if to prompt Poppy to get up and go through the door.
Poppy hesitated. Was she ready to see her scores and the big red markings that told the whole ice rink she was disqualified? She forced a long exhale then accepted her competitor’s offer.
“Sorry, you didn’t land your Double Axel combination.” Poppy offered an awkward apology. She wanted to create conversation but didn’t know how to behave around a competitor.
“Whatever.” Jamie stared straight ahead as they weaved through the crowd in the rink’s lobby. “I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Regionals the second I popped out of that axel.”
“Didn’t you at least try for a second?”
“You didn’t watch my program?” Jamie finally stopped and turned to meet Poppy’s pale green gaze. Poppy never understood why humans wouldn’t make eye contact when they were uncomfortable but then would stare straight at you once they felt defensive. Fairies knew better than to look directly at an unpredictable being when it displayed guarded behaviors. Poppy watched the screen behind her competitor’s head.
“Hello?” Jamie stamped one foot. The metal blade against the rubber floor made no noise.
Words flashed on the mounted television and Poppy’s vision blurred. Her green eyes must have turned black as they always did in moments of extreme stress. A fairy’s perfect defense against combative humans, or vampires, any creatures that insisted on manipulating you with their intense stares and facial expressions. Jamie gasped. The rubber beneath her skates squeaked as she spun on her heel to follow Poppy’s gaze.
“Oh my god! Oh my god! Yes!” Jamie’s low pitched voice switched in an instant. She squealed and threw her fists in the air.
Poppy’s name lined up the screen in a big red font. She had the highest score of all the skaters in her group. The numbers had a red slash mark through them indicating that all her hard work amounted to nothing but a dash. Right above her name read: Jamie Walsh, bronze placement.
“I’m so sorry, Penelope.” Jamie bunched up her nose. She reached her arms around Poppy to hug her but immediately recoiled when her hands accidentally touched the thick silver wings. “Ew.” She said it at a whisper but Poppy’s sharp hearing caught the rude remark.
“It’s Poppy,” she said.
“Whatever.” Jamie lightly patted Poppy’s shoulder then bounced away. She disappeared into the crowd of people lining up behind them to view the scores. The screen flashed away to display a new group.
“Poppy!” She recognized her dad’s voice but could not find him amongst the sea of faces. Black shiny wings jutted up above hats and heads. The wings’ silver lining glinted against the awful bright fluorescent lights of the old rink’s lobby. Poppy watched them moved through the crowd.
“I came as soon as I heard.” Her father’s smooth tanned face appeared at the front. With their short fairy stature, they posed no intrusion standing in front of the screen. Though her father’s wings were almost large enough to block the bottom half of the TV.
“Did Linda call you?” Poppy swallowed. She hated to disappoint her dad. He had no wrinkles even after a lifetime of outdoor labor. His skin seemed to darken faster now with every hour out in the harsh sun.
“Of course she called me, Pop.” He wrapped his arms around her, wings and all, and pulled her into a warm hug. “I’m sorry I missed your performance. But I told my boss I needed to leave early as soon as your coach said you got disqualified.”
“I’m so sorry.” Tears stung the corners of her eyes again. Poppy felt them squeeze out and get caught on the rhinestones glued at the edges of her eyes.
“Why are you sorry, Lil Fae?” He cupped her chin in his rough hand and wiped the gathered tears away with the other.
“Because....” She swallowed another round of tears. How could she be so vulnerable in front of all her competitors, the other coaches, and...humans? Poppy represented the fairy community in the sports world. She knew she must stay strong and not let them see the weakness. “Can we leave? Please?”
“Don’t you have another program to skate?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Poppy shook her head. “I failed the short program.”
“Your coach said that even though you were disqualified from scoring that you can still skate your long program.”
“I don’t care!”
“Let go!” Poppy pushed her father’s hand off of her shoulder and shoved through the crowd. Her head hung as she rushed back to the locker room to grab her skate bag.
“Speak of the devil,” Jamie said as Poppy stepped through the heavy door. Several other skaters surrounded Jamie. The circle opened up as they all turned to stare at the fairy. Of course, they’d stare at the fairy. Take a picture, people, it’ll last longer! She rummaged through her garment bag for a sweater but couldn’t find it. Goosebumps lined her arms even though fairies rarely felt cold.
“Are you leaving?” Jamie asked.
“Yeah.” Poppy sat down and rapidly unlaced every hook before yanking off her skates. The leather boot creaked as she shoved the tongue back into place and crammed it in her suitcase.
“Um.” Jamie glanced around her group before smirking. “The long programs start in half an hour.”
“I don’t care.” Poppy pushed the second skate into the suitcase.
“Hey!” Jamie walked over to her. “Don’t be like that. You’re still technically qualified for Regionals because you won the Spring Split right?”
Poppy stood up to give the human a taste of her own medicine. She stared directly into Jamie’s blue eyes though her vision blurred. Jamie took a step back as blackness rolled over Poppy’s entire eye socket. Finally, it was Poppy’s turn to smirk.
“Yeah. I killed the Spring Split. And I’m going to kill at Regionals, and then at the Grand Prix Finals.” She specifically chose the aggressive wording to finally show the bullies of the skating world that she wouldn’t allow herself to be picked on.
“Whoa there. Down doggie.” Jamie threw her hands up in surrender but Poppy knew she wasn’t taking those backward steps for show. “I just wanted to be encouraging.”
Poppy felt the confidence fading and her anxiety return. Her silver wings sent little pockets of light bouncing all around the walls and ceiling as they twitched and reflected off the indoor illumination.
“I’m sorry.” She resisted the temptation to drop her head and stare at her feet. If she didn’t represent the fairy community, she wouldn’t have offered the apology. Her father always called her ‘Lil Fae, the voice of the supernaturals.’ He’d beamed with pride when she announced that she wanted to ice skate despite the constant discouragement of the judgmental humans.
“Yeah, well.” Jamie was standing safely back in her circle of friends now. “Whatever.” She crossed her arms.
The door opened behind them. A coach yelled at one of her students to get out onto his warm-up ice. A guy in a purple jumpsuit stepped from the circle and ran out of the locker room. The freezing air forced Poppy to hug herself.
“You cold?” Jamie asked, her voice softened.
“Kind of.” Poppy glanced at her garment bag. “I can’t find my sweater.”
“Here.” Jamie handed her a black pile of fleece. “You can borrow mine.”
The gesture seemed to warm Poppy from the inside out. The goosebumps melted back into her skin and she no longer needed the sweater but took it out of gratitude. She pulled one sleeve on then tried to reach the other one. It stretched over her wings creating a giant hump on her back. Jamie let out a sound that resembled an escaped balloon and the whole group burst into laughter. Poppy’s cheeks burned. She definitely didn’t need the extra warmth now.
“Look, guys. It's the hunchback of South Skate World!”
Poppy ripped the sweater off. The thought of borrowing a human’s clothes hadn’t even occurred to her. Plenty of garment lines existed that created fairy friendly wardrobes. In fact, South Mall was filled with stores for fairies, vampires, shapeshifters, and mermaids. The world looked accepting toward the supernaturals on the surface, but grim toleration was a better word to describe their existence.
She tossed the sweater back to Jamie, grabbed her suitcase handle and garment bag. Just before stepping out the door she turned back. She willed her eyes to stay green and stared right at her competitor. You’re welcome for letting you into Regionals. Without my wings, you wouldn’t have made it. Instead, Poppy smiled.
“Good luck at Regionals.” It was all she said. The locker room door slammed behind her. Poppy ran through the hall and burst into the warm daylight to find her father waiting with the car ready. He knew. He always knew what she needed.
“Poppy Fairy!” The announcer’s voice blared overhead. Since fae did not use last names the system insisted on placing another ‘name’ after their first. The skating organization settled on ‘fairy’ as if that didn’t sound prejudice. It only bothered Poppy the first time it happened. Mostly because it caught her off guard. Now her chest swelled with pride as she heard the announcement. Yes, I am a fairy AND a figure skater!
“All right, hun.” Linda grabbed one of Poppy’s wings and squeezed, the way one might do with a shoulder. “Be sure to use every last muscle you got to keep these babies still during every jump.”
“I know.” Poppy nodded.
“Don’t you remember the first time you fell? It was on a double-”
“Salchow.” Poppy finished her sentence. “I know, Linda.”
“It may sound crazy, but this is the one time falling is better than flying.”
“That does sound a little crazy.” They both shared a laugh.
“God knows I wish I could fly,” Linda said more to herself than Poppy.
“Poppy Fairy, you have thirty seconds to take the ice!” The announcer growled into the microphone.
“Go!” Linda waved her toward the slick surface. As soon as Poppy’s blade made contact with the frozen floor, confidence surged through her veins as if she’d been injected with caffeine. A few sparse claps echoed across the Olympic size rink. Humans rarely knew how to react to seeing a supernatural being in a sport, considering Poppy was the first one.
With one hand draped over her head and the other stretching down her leg, Poppy looked to her toepick. The position was rather dramatic, perfect for Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
The classical music spilled from the speaker and sent her soaring in a forward push. With each step, she felt more and more empowered. Poppy landed the Double Axel Double Toe Loop combination within twenty seconds of the start of the routine. Coach Linda’s cheers echoed across the ice. If she could hit each jump without any interference from her wings, Poppy would qualify for the national competition, the Grand Prix Finals.
The music slowed as she pushed into the last spin of the program. She could already hear clapping as she pulled herself up from the backward bent position of a layback spin. With one more push, she thrust backward to exit the spin then posed by looking up at one hand stretched above her head.
The perfect program had Poppy so excited that her wings buzzed out of control. Her blades lifted carrying her body to hover just above the ice. Poppy took flight. Her hands shot to cover her mouth in shock. She immediately squeezed her wings and dropped back down to the ice. The abrupt movement had no grace in it and caused her to roll an ankle and collapse to the left. Her elbow crashed to the ice.
Poppy’s eyes shot to her coach. Linda flicked her wrists, telling Poppy to get up. The judges at this rink sat on a raised wooden stage. They hovered in blankets and big fur coats hiding behind the table. A judge with a bald head waved Poppy over. When she arrived at the stage he glared down his thin nose at her. His brown eyes peered underneath the wiry glasses that perched on his face.
“Poppy Fairy,” he began. “Do you believe it is fair for a supernatural being to compete against humans?”
Her heart seemed to stop. How could she answer that? All beings were the same. All beings wanted success, fame, or simply acceptance.
“I did not use my wings during the program….” She shifted weight from one leg to the other. “Sir.”
“I did not ask whether you cheated or not, skater.” This time he didn’t afford her the respect of addressing her by name. “I asked whether or not you believe this is fair.”
Poppy gritted her teeth together. She squeezed her eyes shut to hide the blackness. If only they wouldn’t reveal her anxiety. She remembered the hours of practice, the early mornings twisting her ankle, bruising her knees and elbows, on a bare ice surface. Images of Poppy’s competitions, tears spent over lost scores, and the pain of breaking in a new pair of skates flashed through her mind’s eye. At least that eye didn’t turn black. Finally, that same confidence coursed through her veins again as adrenaline took over. Her eyes shot open, black as night and swallowed the remainder of the judge’s intimidation tactics.
“I skated a clean program with the exact same skates, muscles, and challenges as anyone else. Do I think it’s fair? No.”
“Well, I have to agree with you miss-”
“I wasn’t done!” It was Poppy’s turn to interrupt this time. “I don’t think it's fair that supernaturals are treated like outcasts, bullied, and manipulated into staying out of human’s ways. We’ve been on the outskirts of society for too long. Do I think it’s fair for a supernatural to compete against a human? It is only fair as long as they do not cheat. Humans have their own way of cheating though, don’t they? So yes, you basically asked me if I cheated. I did not. The program ended and I accidentally used my wings but the timer was stopped. Am I correct?” Poppy addressed the other three judges sitting down. One of them nodded and held up the timer to show the judge.
“You may be excused.” The judge glared at Poppy as she skated toward the exit. His bald head wrinkled up at the top when he raised his eyebrows. Poppy finally tore her eyes from the judge’s stage and stepped onto the rubber flooring.
“What was that all about?” Linda asked. She held onto Poppy’s elbow and pulled her over to the waiting benches.
“I bet you’ll see it later on when this is rebroadcast.” Poppy glanced back to the cameraman behind the judge’s table. Regionals were always televised since the skaters who placed high here would move on to the Grand Prix Finals. Those on the podium at the Grand Prix would then be considered for the country’s Olympic team.
“Okay. Well, just take a deep breath. They’ll be announcing your scores soon. I’m really proud of that program, Poppy. You nailed every single jump. I expect very high numbers!”
Linda’s breath smelled of peppermint as she breathed visible puffs of air toward Poppy’s face. Everything felt numb after the nerve-wracking fight with the ref. Poppy alternated squeezing her hands but couldn’t feel them. The peppermint reminded Poppy of the first time she saw ice skating.
One winter dad left the television playing on Christmas Eve after he’d fallen asleep wrapping her presents. Poppy wandered to the living room hoping to spy on Santa. Instead, another type of magic displayed before her. Graceful skaters jumped and spun during a holiday show. She stayed up long past her bedtime to watch the mesmerizing sport with a mug of peppermint hot chocolate in her small hands.
“This is outrageous!” Linda jumped up, knocking Poppy from her memories. She hadn’t even heard her scores announced. “You skated a perfectly clean program! How is this possible? You see that?”
Her coach pointed a shaking hand at the massive screen hanging suspended above the ice rink. All the scores ranged high, near perfect: 5.8, 5.9, even a 6.0. All but one. The first score in the set, the judge seated on the edge, scored Poppy’s program with a 1.2.
Poppy’s wings buzzed with anxiety, her vision blurred over, two clear examples of challenges she had to overcome on the ice that humans did not. She expected a sting in her eyes but nothing came.
“This isn’t over,” Linda said.
Poppy wanted to hug her coach for the support but knew it would only appall spectators to see a human and fairy embrace. She cowered at the thought of the action being seen by thousands at home on their tv screens. One moment of aggressive defensiveness was enough for today.
The cameramen focused back to the ice surface to follow Jamie. Poppy watched her competitor take the ice. Jamie waved as the audience cheered. She posed on her knees with both hands clutched to her chest. Romeo and Juliet Overture flowed from the speakers and Jamie’s movements mesmerized the crowd. Even Poppy froze at the edge of the rink to watch the graceful footwork and emotional expressions.
“Poppy.” Linda placed warm hands on both fairy wings. “Let’s go.” She gave a gentle pull back toward the hallway.
“I want to watch,” Poppy said without taking her eyes off the captivating routine. The audience erupted in a roar as Jamie’s back bent in half. She leaned back in a beautiful Ina Bauer, one leg stretched behind the other and glided diagonally across the ice.
“There’s nothing you can do to change the scores now. It’s not worth the anxiety.” Linda was right.
The next hour and a half crawled. Poppy's feet ached inside her skates. Regionals always insisted on presenting the awards on ice. That required all eligible skaters to stay in costume and keep their equipment on.
“The last scores will be announced. Time to come out of hiding,” Linda said. She meant nothing by it but, for some reason, the phrase struck Poppy like a lightning bolt. She staggered as her sleeping feet felt heavy and fuzzy. Her leg cramps creaked and stretched as she forced one skate in front of the other. Come out of hiding.
The cool air sent Poppy’s wings in overdrive. They buzzed as she marched toward the ice surface. On the suspended screen three names appeared.
Women’s Free Skate Standings
First Place: Jamie Walsh
Second Place: Lauren Kim
Third Place: Poppy Fairy
Poppy’s entire body shook under the movement of her wings. Linda’s voice sounded distant as she instructed her student to take the ice. Poppy felt underwater as she waded toward the podium. Three judges stood in bundled clothes and fuzzy boots on the ice. Each held a medal in their hands.
The same judge who’d timed Poppy’s program lifted the bronze medal up and over Poppy’s curly, white ponytail. Jamie coughed as they announced Poppy’s placement. She glanced to her competitor. Jamie raised an eyebrow and smirked, clearly proud to have beaten a fairy.
And just like that Regionals ended. Poppy’s thought echoed her coach’s words. This isn’t over. Come out of hiding.
“We will keep elements the same, but the artistic aspects and music need a shake-up,” Linda explained. Poppy and her coach discussed a new program for the Grand Prix Finals.
“I really liked Moonlight Sonata.” Poppy shrugged.
“So sorry.” Jamie skated over to the hockey benches where Poppy was relacing her skates and Linda was leaning against the wall waiting for her student. “I just couldn’t help but overhear you’re having trouble picking new music.”
“There’s no trouble here, Jamie.” Linda stood up straight and folded her arms. “Not yet, anyway.”
“I’ve always wanted to skate to the Nutcracker Suite Ballet. But coach Sokolov never lets me.”
Poppy and her coach exchanged glances. The song wasn’t a bad idea. Linda pulled it up on her phone. The rhythm fit perfectly with the flow of her routine.
“You’re welcome,” Jamie said. She flung her dirty blonde ponytail around and skated away.
The next few weeks flew by. Poppy could have sworn that the couple of hours spent waiting for the final scores at Regionals took longer than the time she had left to practice before the national competition of the Grand Prix.
The Olympic size rink didn’t daunt Poppy. The tripled amount of cameras, a massive audience, and country-wide range of competitors didn’t scare her either. But as soon as the same judge pushed through the rink’s swinging doors Poppy’s eyes turned black. Even through blurred vision, she could see his bald head bobbing toward the judge’s stage.
Poppy’s outburst at him never made the rebroadcast. Her dad explained that it was likely cut from the filming so the ref didn’t look bad. Plus, Poppy knew the human-dominated news stations would snuff out a moment of supernatural strength.
She drew in a sharp breath as her dad hugged her. He said something about going to find his seat but anxiety drowned out his voice. Poppy saw him wave as he walked away. Linda appeared in her line of vision.
“Hey! You in there?” Her coach shook her shoulders.
“Yep, yeah. I’m good.” Poppy nodded with eyes squeezed shut.
“Are you sure? The sports announcer has asked to do a quick interview with you.”
“Poppy, this is Nationals. They’re gearing up for the Olympics. They want to gather video clips to play for all skaters who might make the American team. If you can’t handle it, I’ll just tell them no.”
Come out of hiding. Poppy shook her head at the thought of a live interview. Though it sent flutters of anxiety to her wings and stomach, she relished the realization that a live showing meant that the news stations couldn’t snuff out her words. It was time to show the world that supernatural beings were here to stay.
“Wait.” Poppy grabbed Linda’s elbow before she could walk away. “I’ll do it.”
“Great, follow me.”
“Now?” Poppy scrambled to catch up to her coach. They walked through a maze of halls to the camera crew for one of the largest news stations in the country. Poppy swallowed a lump in her throat.
“Hi, sweetie,” the black-haired announcer said. Her tiny body was even shorter than Poppy’s fairy stature. “We’ll go live in 3, okay?” Her voice dripped with sugary sweetness. Poppy’s stomach grumbled.
“I’m here with Poppy Fairy, for a first look at the world’s first supernatural athlete.” The announcer’s voice still sounded fake but no longer sweet. “Poppy,” she faced the fairy. “Tell me about your controversial choice in music.”
“Wha-what?” Poppy stuttered.
This was not the interview she expected. Typically, announcers would mention an athlete’s recent successes and challenges, then pose them a question about overcoming their struggles at the current sports event. Of course, it wasn’t typical. Not for a fairy.
“You and your coach have chosen to skate to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite Ballet, correct?”
“Um, yes.” Poppy nodded.
“As you’re aware the song is titled ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies’. Is this a criticism of your species? Or is it a comment intended to spark backlash to the human community?”
“I…” Poppy blinked against the bright lights. As much as she willed her wings to remain still, they insisted on buzzing. They betrayed her, physically revealing her anxiety on live national television. Poppy’s vision blurred.
“Unsettling,” the announcer said. “Poppy, your aggressive supernatural reactions seemed to have answered the question for you.”
“No, um.” Poppy blinked rapidly in an attempt to return her eyes to normal. As the blackness rolled back from covering the entire eye sockets, the announcer took it as her cue to continue.
“What is your purpose here in the world of competitive figure skating, Poppy Fairy?” She shoved the microphone to Poppy’s lips.
“I just love skating.” Poppy shrugged.
“You love the fact that you can compete against a species without the power of flight, and other supernatural strengths, am I wrong?” The microphone again.
“No,” Poppy said. “I mean, yes! You’re wrong.” The announcer stared at her, dark brown eyes narrowed to slits.
“Aggressive again?” The announcer looked back and forth from Poppy to the camera.
Poppy’s wings finally froze. She straightened up her back as the weight of the wings’ movements lifted. She now stood almost a head taller than the petite announcer with her skates on and newly confident posture.
“Not at all,” Poppy said. “In fact,” she glanced at the camera with a smile. “I chose this song because I wanted to remind everyone watching today that fairies can dance just like anyone else. So, ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies,’ fit like a glove. We can dance, we can throw a ball, and we can figure skate for no other reason than just because we love it.”
“Thank you,” Poppy interrupted the announcer. She flashed one last smile at the camera then stepped away from the heat of the bright lights.
“Well there you have it.” The announcer’s voice echoed down the hall as Poppy walked away. “Supernaturals can do anything they want without a second thought to how it affects others around them. That is straight from the fairy’s mouth!”
Poppy laughed and shook her head. The announcer’s attempt to belittle the fairies by referencing them in a phrase about an animal wasn’t surprising.
“Lil Fae!” Her dad’s voice drowned out the announcer. He jogged down the hall, his dark heavy wings bouncing behind him. He threw his arms around her. “I watched your interview on the TV’s out there.” He pointed to the rink.
“It was playing out there?”
“It was playing everywhere,” he said as he pulled out of the hug. Together they marched through the halls back to the main rink.
“She caught me so off guard. I didn’t know what to do. And that stupid Jamie! She tricked me. I didn’t know the song had a different name. I thought it was just the Nutcracker Suite. She wanted this to happen. She wanted to embarrass me, to embarrass all fairies!”
“Pop.” Her dad stopped walking. “You have nothing to worry about. You’re Lil Fae, Voice of the Supernaturals. Do you realize you’re the first fairy, heck, the first non-human to appear on television and it not be a negative thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve never noticed? The only time supernaturals are ever on TV is when they’ve arrested a werewolf. Or a shapeshifter is accused of impersonating a human. Something like that. Poppy, just forget about the announcer. Forget about the controversial song.”
“You think it's controversial too? Ugh! Why didn’t Linda catch this? Where even is she?”
“Linda had to step out.”
“Kiddo.” Her dad looked around. His confident speeches seemed to dissipate. “Coach Linda gets harassed a lot for taking you on as a student.”
“She does?” Poppy stared at him with large green eyes. They contrasted the deep green crushed velvet in her skating dress.
“I’ve always wanted to shelter you from it. But yes. She’s faced some pretty hard times over this.”
“Then why doesn’t she just stop teaching me?” Poppy’s anger still swelled. The announcer had riled her up. She wanted to hold a grudge against Jamie for the trick.
“She believes in you. Just like I do. You love to skate. Linda knows that. She’s not going to drop you when she sees how passionate you are.”
“Today? Nothing too bad. Someone slashed all the tires in her car and scratched ‘winger lover’ on the sides with a key.”
“Not too bad?” Poppy’s wings flicked. “How is that not bad?”
“There have been worst cases…”
“What’re you doing?” Linda stomped up to them. “Poppy, your warmup is in four minutes! Let’s get a move on!”
“But-” Poppy didn’t know what to say to her coach. What else had she sacrificed for Poppy?
“No ifs, ands, or buts. Unless it’s your butt getting out on the ice!”
Poppy looked back. Her dad smiled and winked as Linda pushed her down the hall.
When they entered the arena, Poppy could have sworn that every single head turned to look at them. She flicked her wings and closed her eyes. In her mind, Poppy ran-through her routine.
“Skaters for the Women’s Short Program Warm-up please take the ice.” A voice boomed on the speakers. Poppy glanced at the screens suspended above the large ice surface. A male skater was being questioned by the same interviewer that had harassed her. Poppy shook her shoulders, arms, and wings in an attempt to rid herself of the bad vibes.
“Run through your program after doing your Triple Flip at least once and your Double Axel Triple Toe Loop combo. Got it?” Linda pointed to the ice as she spoke. Poppy nodded, forced a thick exhale then stepped on the slick surface.
With a smooth warm-up, Poppy felt the confidence return. But she couldn’t get the interview out of her mind. The more she thought about the rude questions, the attack on supernaturals, and Jamie’s betrayal, the more power seemed to surge through her veins.
Poppy took that energy and soared through her short program. Every jump seemed twice as high as usual. Her spins zipped with a speed she only saw in Olympic level skaters.
When Debussy’s Clair De Lune ended, Poppy threw her head back and pumped two fists in the air. Though the arena was nearly full, clapping for her success was sparse. Poppy could hear her dad whistling from somewhere in the audience. She nailed it.
“Not bad.” Jamie tossed the comment toward Poppy as they passed each other. She wanted to punch Jamie or scream at her for the trick.
I am the voice of the supernaturals. I can do this. Poppy bit her lip. As Jamie walked away she finally responded.
“Good luck, Jamie.”
Jamie blinked at her for a moment, frozen in place. Linda cupped Poppy’s elbow and directed her toward the waiting area.
5.9, 5.9, 5.9, 6.0.
Linda shook Poppy in excitement. The scores said it all. Poppy couldn’t suppress a smile. She’d killed it, just like she promised Jamie that she would. But Jamie didn’t matter anymore. The only beings that mattered were the underrepresented supernaturals. Poppy had to stay strong, for them.
“Okay. You have three hours until the Women’s Long Programs,” Linda said as she brushed a red curl behind her ear. “Strip the costume, go for a walk with your dad, come back with a clear mind.”
“Okay.” Poppy nodded. “Linda?”
“I’m sorry you have to put up with so much. Being my coach I mean.”
“Poppy, don’t worry about me. The only thing on your mind should be your next routine. Besides, I want to do all I can to help those who aren’t allowed to have a voice. But I’m not a supernatural. You are. Supporting you is the best thing I can do to promote equality.”
Poppy sniffled. Tears stung her eyes as she listened to her coach. Linda reached for Poppy’s hands. She held them and squeezed.
Newscasters swamped Poppy and her father as they exited the arena. The Grand Prix Finals was a large event but never had there been so many stations here before. They were here for the controversy. They were here to watch a supernatural fail.
“Poppy Fairy, will your long program be ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies?’”
“Poppy, can you comment on your attack of the judge at Regionals?”
“Excuse me! Please tell us about your short program. Scores that high are rare. Did you cheat?”
“Fairy! Will you give us another interview? Just one more?”
Poppy and her father exchanged looks. He closed his eyes and gave a slight nod. Poppy understood.
“Yes,” she answered. “I’ll have another interview.” This time she was prepared.
The news station from earlier pulled her aside. It was the same sports announcer with jet black hair and a tiny figure.
“Poppy Fairy has agreed to speak with us again. The controversies seem to be stacking up, one on top of another.” The woman turned to Poppy. “The Olympic committee is scrambling to have a meeting. Poppy, you have launched a bout of chaos around the world in the sports community, and beyond. Can you tell us why you insist on changing the rules?”
The Olympic committee? That meant that they expected her to make the Olympic team. They needed to decide whether or not supernaturals should be allowed to participate in the Olympic games. This was her chance to change history.
“I ask for no rule changes.” Poppy answered directly into the microphone. She looked at the camera. “I simply want to skate.”
“Shouldn’t your kind compete in their own sports?”
“We are all a part of this world. We share this land. We share the same morals, follow the same laws and rules, and feel the same emotions.”
“Is that your answer?”
Poppy nodded. The sports announcer blinked rapidly, seemingly stumped for the next question.
“Poppy,” she said. “At this point, you have to score very low not to make it on the podium here at the Grand Prix Finals, America’s national figure skating championships. Tell us how you’re feeling as you’re so close to being considered for the United States’ Olympic Women’s Figure Skating Team?”
Finally, a real question.
“I feel happy.”
“Short and sweet.” The lady directed the comment at the camera. “This just in. The Olympic committee has gathered for an emergency meeting. They have released a statement that they intend to make a decision regarding supernaturals before the end of this national competition. Poppy,” she said and turned back to her. “If you win the Grand Prix today, is this the culmination of everything you’ve worked for?”
“It is not,” Poppy said. “Simply winning means nothing. Being able to participate, means everything. I hope to pave the way for all beings, regardless of type, to have the opportunity to do whatever it is that they want. Whether it’s sports or politics.”
The announcer nodded slowly with a blank look in her eyes.
“Noble,” she said. “Thank you, fairy.” The cameramen stepped closer to the announcer to pan away from Poppy and zoom in on the caster.
Tchaikovsky's ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies’ blasted over the rink’s loudspeaker as Poppy began her program.
Her wings buzzed and flicked even when she squeezed the muscles willing them to stay still. She tried her first jump. The distraction on her back caused her to miss the landing. Poppy slipped in the Triple Flip takeoff and crashed to her butt. She searched the rink for the open door where coach Linda would surely be standing. Linda nodded, her red curls bouncing up and down. Poppy took the cue.
The music kept blaring and now she was behind in the choreography. She rolled to her knees and hopped back up. Poppy continued the program but her wings never stopped their nervous flicking. The piano music ended and she posed.
The judges awarded Poppy the expected mid-range scores. Without a clean program, they couldn’t give her higher marks. Her fall recovery took too long and threw off the artistry of her routine.
Linda spoke encouraging words to Poppy as the other women skated strong long programs. Their scores came back high and Poppy was knocked from second to third and finally down to fourth place. She was officially out of the running for the Olympic team. Only those who made the podium at the Grand Prix Final are considered. Even with a near-perfect short program, Poppy’s mistake in the long program cost her a medal.
“I’m so proud of you kiddo.” Her dad wrapped her in another warm hug. “You really opened the world’s eyes.”
“I didn’t make it.” Poppy pulled from the embrace. “I’m not going to the Olympics.”
“Not this year.” He winked.
“What do you mean?”
“Poppy.” Linda stepped closer. “The Olympic Committee announced their decision while you were on the ice.”
Poppy swallowed. She felt her wings tingling. The highs and lows of today’s emotions were too much. She wanted to take flight. Was she ready to hear what her coach was about to say?
“You did it.” Linda broke into a huge smile. She shook her head and repeated herself. “You did it! All beings are now included. The Olympic Committee has expanded to acceptance of all kinds.”
Tears burned. They snagged on her fake eyelashes and heavy show makeup then finally spilled down her rosy cheeks. Poppy didn’t try to hold back the emotions anymore.
“Lil Fae,” her dad said. “You’ve changed everything. Someday fairies, shapeshifters, even humans, will look back on this day and remember your courage.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Poppy swallowed. She struggled to talk as emotions swelled in her chest.
“Don’t thank me.” He shook his head. “You were the voice of the supernaturals. Now you’ve given them all a voice.” Poppy’s crying broke into a tearful smile.
“I just really love ice skating.”